by Jeff Fiedler
Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.
The Eagles may be the first country-rock band to have had a hit single of any real magnitude (1972’s “Take It Easy”), but – and this next fact gets overlooked continually by rock historians – they’re not technically the oldest country-rock band with multiple Top 40 hits to their name. That notable designation belongs to the sadly much-less-well-known Poco, who date all the way back to 1968. [The two bands actually have a fair amount of overlap – one of the original members of Poco was bassist Randy Meisner, who’d go on to be one of the four original members of The Eagles (staying with them all the way through 1977’s Hotel California), while Meisner’s replacement in Poco was Timothy B. Schmit, who’d – hilariously enough – go on to also replace Meisner in The Eagles, joining them just in time for The Long Run and remaining with the band to this day.]
Poco was originally formed by Buffalo Springfield alumni Richie Furay and Jim Messina, the band being rounded out by Meisner, pedal-steel player Rusty Young, and drummer George Grantham. [Fascinatingly enough, Gregg Allman also auditioned to be in the band, but, of course, he was destined for much bigger things.] The band was unfortunately plagued by frequent lineup changes, and Meisner would leave shortly before the release of their first album, 1969’s Pickin’ up the Pieces, while Messina would leave in 1970 just after recording the live album Deliverin’, which would be the group’s commercial breakthrough, reaching #26. [Messina would go on to even greater success as half of the wildly successful ‘70s pop duo Loggins & Messina.] By 1972’s Crazy Eyes, the band’s lineup consisted of Furay, Young, Schmit, Grantham, and guitarist Paul Cotton, who had been recommended to the band by Chicago vocalist/bassist Peter Cetera.
Though the live Deliverin’ was the album that truly first put Poco on most listeners’ radar screens, it’s the studio-crafted Crazy Eyes (helmed by Canadian-born producer Jack Richardson, best known for his extensive work with The Guess Who; he also produced Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” and co-produced Alice Cooper’s Love It to Death) that arguably stands as the band’s high-water mark. There are just eight cuts here, but the disc is filler-free, and nearly every last cut is a Poco classic. There’s also something here for just about every kind of music buff, as the band flirts with different musical shadings.
For those who like pure country, there’s Paul Cotton’s “Blue Water,” while the Rusty Young-penned instrumental “Fool’s Gold” – which would become a highlight of the band’s live act – is hardcore bluegrass propelled by Young’s delicious banjo work. Cotton’s “A Right Along” is straightforward driving rock (and one of just three cuts from this disc to make the cut of the 1975 double-disc compilation The Very Best of Poco), while the ambling country-rock of Furay’s “Let’s Dance Tonight” – a great closer that’s not nearly as up-tempo as you might expect from its title but surprisingly just as fun, with the band working up a slow burn as the cut proceeds and Furay turning in such great twists of phrase as “only if you do what you can sure do, and only if you do it right.”
There are two covers here, one slightly more left-field than the other. The great “Brass Buttons” originally hails from Gram Parsons’ cult classic Grievous Angel; it’s hard to top the former Flying Burrito Brother and country-rock pioneer, but Poco just about does so with its lovely, faithful reading of the song with Furay on lead vocals. [Fun trivia: Rusty Young was, in fact, invited to be one of the original members of the Burritos but passed up the opportunity in favor of joining Poco.] “Magnolia,” in contrast, is a gentle tune from laid-back rocker J.J. Cale’s Naturally; considering that Cale is best known for writing the rollicking Eric Clapton hits “After Midnight” and “Cocaine,” you might be shocked at just how pretty “Magnolia” is if you’ve never heard the tune before, and Poco’s own version matches Cale’s original in terms of sheer beauty, not in the least due to Paul Cotton’s perfectly nuanced vocal performance, which is just as soft and gentile as Cale’s but – thanks to Cotton’s higher register – floats above the air in ways that the deeper-voiced Cale’s performance couldn’t and goes perfectly with the song’s emotive lyric.
But the two biggest knockouts of all here are band originals. “Crazy Eyes” is a nearly ten-minute-long epic inspired by and dedicated to Gram Parsons. The cut – including some dazzling dobro and banjo interludes that make the most of the album’s stereophonic sound, the band even going so far as to point out in the liner notes that listening to the cut in mono will cause some passages to disappear – showcases the band’s instrumental interplay to stunning effect. Sadly, the song was never incorporated into the band’s live act for reasons that the cut was simply impossible to faithfully recreate on stage, namely due to the complex percussion. The other standout is the Timothy B. Schmit-penned-and-sung “Here We Go Again,” which strangely failed to break the band on pop radio but is arguably their catchiest song up to this point; not only does the track boast a fabulous, instantly-unforgettable chorus and a first-rate instrumental arrangement that highlights the band’s acoustic guitar chops and Grantham’s surprisingly muscular drum work on the more rock-oriented passages, but the song’s harmonies rival that of any Eagles song from the same era.
Yet Crazy Eyes, for all its brilliance, did little to change the group’s commercial fortunes (although it became the best-charting of their studio albums to that point, reaching #38) and the group would continue for several years to be little more than a cult act.